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Oct 11, 2010

Winning Isn't Everything

With “the year of the pitcher” winding down, we close the books on some of the best pitching performances in recent memory. With, two (really three) perfect games and four no-hitters if you include Roy Halladay’s playoff masterpiece, and a new record set for near no-hitters in which a hit was not given up until the seventh inning or later. The 2010 season also saw a record number of pitchers (17) have an ERA under three at the all-star break. 

With all the exciting pitching going on, the races for the Cy Young are completely open. The biggest debate being in the American League, and in deciding whether or not a pitcher with only a 13-12 record on the year deserves to win the award. Felix Hernandez leads virtually every pitching category with a 2.27 ERA (first in MLB), 232 SO (second in MLB), 1.06 WHIP (second in AL), 249.2 IP (first in AL), and 6 CG (third in AL). In other words, almost no pitcher has been as dominant as King Felix this year. However, some, because of his low win total, are discrediting his season. But how important are wins in rating a pitcher?

Major League Baseball is changing. No longer do pitchers go out and throw 120 to 150 pitches in a game on a regular basis. All teams use a five-man rotation which limits the number of starts in a season for a pitcher. On top of all that, the economics of today’s game make teams wearier of leaving starters in over a certain number of innings, so as not to risk injury. If CC Sabathia blows out his arm, that’s quite a big investment lost by the Yankees. Even King Felix missed out on the strikeouts title because he was not allowed to take the mound for the last game of the season due to workload concerns.

So where does this leave the value of the wins column with a pitcher? The category cannot and will not go away. Too much importance has been placed on wins throughout the modern era. But the voters for the Cy Young need to begin to look at the other categories weighted against other factors on a pitcher’s season resume. Last year the voters took a step in the right direction by voting both Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum the 2009 Cy Young winners with only 16 and 15 wins each, respectively. But this year will be the true test. Will the value of a pitcher be punished because of an increasingly outdated statistic. Will CC win it with a league leading 21 wins or will Felix win it with his dominance in nearly every other category? Only the voters can decide.

Maybe neither of them will win and someone else will claim it. There are many others worthy of votes.

Jered Weaver is one such pitcher who is deserving of some votes. Much like Felix Hernandez, Weaver suffered in the wins category as a result of having no run support and a sketchy bullpen to follow him. Weaver left six games with the lead, each resulting in a no-decision and he ended up with a disappointing thirteen wins. With more wins he may have been a frontrunner for the Cy Young with a major league leading 233 strikeouts, and finishing in the top 5 in the AL in WHIP and ERA. With a low number of wins however, its extremely unlikely that he will even finish in the top 5 in voting.

Wins will never be erased from the face of baseball as it should not, but what needs to happen is the category needs to take a backseat to categories that accurately depict how good a pitcher really is. Unfortunately for many pitchers however, it may be a long while before players and fans see such a thing happen.

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